Preschool children may have the highest exposure to food additives, but researchers should take a more holistic approach to assessing risk, according to a new paper published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.
There are currently 322 different food additives approved for use in the European Union, with a rapid increase in their number in recent years. Globally, there is a complex framework of regulation and ongoing assessments of additive purity and maximum allowed levels in different foods and drinks.
But there are different risks to take into account when assessing children’s exposure to additives, including children’s rapid development, higher intake of foods in relation to bodyweight, and often a greater number of frequently-consumed foods, the paper’s authors write.
However, while many researchers have focused on artificial colours as a particular potential hazard for children, the paper’s authors suggest: “Future assessments should, where possible, examine a range of food additive types rather than food colours exclusively.”
They added: “It is important to consider the limitations of the available scientiﬁc studies when interpreting results.”
Specifically, they said that food colours’ possible effect on children’s behaviour has attracted a great deal of attention – but many studies have used parents to observe their children’s behaviour, and some evidence questions parents’ reliability as observers.
Other studies have been limited by high dropout levels when parents were asked to significantly alter their children’s or entire family’s diet, and when parents were unable to record every food that their child consumed, for example during child care.
Despite limitations, results from studies into additives’ effects on children have had far-reaching results, including the introduction of mandatory warning labels on foods in the EU containing any one of the so-called ‘Southampton Six’ colours that one study linked to hyperactivity in children, even though the study was much-disputed and the European Food Safety Authority reaffirmed the colours as safe .
The paper’s authors call for “a more holistic investigation of exposure patterns and intake levels of food additives by preschool children, rather than focusing on speciﬁc hazards.”
They wrote: “A standardised approach of behavioural measurement which would reduce observer bias is one consideration for such trials.”
Source: Proceedings of the Nutrition Society
Vol. 72, pp. 109–116 doi: 10.1017/S0029665112002935
“Food additives and preschool children”
Authors: Danika M. Martyn, Breige A. McNulty, Anne P. Nugent and Michael J. Gibney